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Herald News online article reports that on September 28th a home fire claimed the lives of two boys, ages 3 and 5. According to the article, a relative said; “they were fun-loving boys who were always smiling.”

The fire was received by the fire department shortly after noon and was reported to have started in a downstairs recreation room. Both boys were found unresponsive by firefighters in a second-floor bedroom in the front of the house.Hickory Hills Fire                    Pictured here: Home where two boys died - Herald News

Hickory Hills was ahead of the curve when, in 2005, it adopted the requirement of fire sprinklers in all new home construction. Unfortunately, the home where the fire occurred - considered fairly new - was built in 1994 with wired, interconnected smoke alarms.

Home fire sprinkler opponents, mainly home builders, often perpetuate the myth that smoke alarms provide enough protection to prevent death by fire in the home, and that NFPA 13D fire sprinkler systems are expensive, despite the results of a research study revealing an average price of $1.61 a sprinklered square foot; yet the NAHB touts the benefits of buying new homes with features that have nothing to do with safety and that add much more to the price of a new home than a fire sprinkler system would. 

The problem with the "smoke alarms are enough" myth is that it fails to take into consideration several important factors; such as age, disability, demographics and other characteristics associated with fire death risk. It is obvious that, at least in this latest case, scientific research trumps opponents’ arguments.

This fire brought back memories of the first fire with a child death that I experienced in my career as a firefighter. This happened 25 years ago; why is it still happening? Approximately 75,000 civilians have died since then, including helpless little children, such as the ones felled by this fire. Why is this acceptable? Why are we still fighting this war? And, most importantly; who’s going to be held accountable?

I don’t have the answers to the questions above, but I do know that the Hickory Hills community will be impacted by this incident for years to come. This includes every firefighter who participated in this incident who will be impacted for the rest of their lives; I can attest to that.

Hickory Hills firefighters                  Pictured here: Firefighters after the fatal fire - Herald News

To all of you out there who, like me, experience the frustration when you witness what is happening around our country with the adoption of the IRC requirement; don’t despair. Just forge ahead and put it on the record; “fire sprinklers save lives” and remember who you are fighting for. We will never surrender, and we shall prevail in the end.

Maria Figueroa

A fire in a six unit, two story apartment building in Somersworth, NH, was controlled by a single sprinkler. There were no injuries and only minor damage to the occupancy, allowing the unit’s occupant to continue living in the home.

Somersworth 13R savePhoto courtesy of the Somersworth Fire Department

 According to Donald P. Bliss, Interim Fire Chief & Emergency Management Director of the Somersworth Fire Department, the fire in a building owned by the Somersworth Housing Authority, “was caused by an unattended tea candle sitting on a table that ignited some clothing material hanging on the back of the door.” He informs that the sprinkler quickly extinguished the fire with minimal damage.

In what can only be described as serendipitous irony, he adds; “the engine company was able to be quickly released to respond mutual aid to the neighboring community for an apartment fire in which the occupant was critically injured.”

What a difference a fire sprinkler makes! Minor damage, no injuries, no one displaced from their home versus mutual aid response, extensive damage, critical injuries; possible displacement of many occupants from their homes. 

Do you know of any other examples of residential fire sprinklers saving life and property? Share them here with us, or click my name below and send them along.

Maria Figueroa

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